Handbags: Filthier Than Toilet Seats?

Handbags: Filthier Than Toilet Seats?

The next time your wife is rummaging around in her handbag for her lippy or car keys, you may want to surreptitiously hand her a wet wipe. A new study from UK washroom company Initial Hygiene has found that women’s handbags are often crawling with harmful bacteria that can pose a significant health risk to humans.

Handbag picture from Shutterstock

Researchers from Initial Hygiene took swab samples from used women’s handbags along with the items inside them. Disturbingly, around 20 per cent of the bags tested were found to contain higher bacteria levels than the average toilet seat.

“Handbags come into regular contact with our hands and a variety of surfaces; so the risk of transferring different germs onto them is very high, especially as bags are rarely cleaned,” Initial Hygiene explained in a statement.

“[Our research] found that one in five handbag handles was home to levels of bacteria-related contamination which pose a significant risk of cross-contamination, while the single dirtiest handle swabbed housed almost three times this level.”

Leather bags were discovered to be the dirtiest as the spongy texture provides the the perfect conditions for bacteria to grow and spread. The dirtiest items in a handbag were found to be face and hand cream, lipstick and mascara.

The report concludes that regular hand sanitisation is essential to prevent the presence of bacteria and that bags should be regularly cleaned to remove contamination build ups.

My first instinct was to dismiss this report as a lame attempt to gain brand recognition through a raft of icky headlines (the lack of methodology or sample size information in the press release is particularly suss).

However, when you think about it, when was the last time you or an acquaintance actively cleaned a handbag? Most of the women I know will happily take their bags into public restrooms, rest them on train seats or leave them on pub floors without a second thought — yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone clean a handbag handle, ever.

In any event, I certainly wont be accepting any more mints from my wife’s handbag. Just in case.


  • “I certainly wont be accepting any more mints from my wife’s handbag”

    So you’ve been doing it up to now with no noteable ill effects? Ignore this report and carry on regardless then, it’s probably doing your immune system more good than harm.

  • Toilets are designed to be very, very clean and as hostile to bacteria as possible. The result of that is a huge number of things around your house have more bacteria – the chopping board you use, quite possibly your shoes, etc. The fact that women aren’t continually dropping dead of handbag-related disease is probably a sign that this is a perfectly safe level of contamination.

    Anecdotally: I’ve never cleaned my backpack, and it’s spent the last few years full of a random assortment of items (including raw meat and a whole lot of food) and being brushed against every surface I go past. I’ve also never put my leather wallet through the machine and god knows where all that money has been. So far, I’m still fairly alive.

  • … The thing is.. I, as an educated person, know and understand that toilets are [relatively] GERM free…. But that is very different to being CLEAN..

    I don’t think it’s illogical not to want to sit in someone elses piss. “Oh but it’s ok it’s clean!”.. Great, go home and you and your family can all piss on each other (good “clean” fun) if you want to.. Personally, i’m going to try and avoid other peoples piss being on my body in any format.

  • The next time your wife is rummaging around in her handbag for her lippy or car keys, you may want to surreptitiously hand her a wet wipe.

    Your wife? Lifehacker readers are all men, are they?

    These stereotypes are a bit sad, don’t you think? I’m a female reader of Lifehacker and I expect a lot better than an automatic assumption that the reader is _male_.

    • Hi Caroline, If you read to the end of the article you would have saw “…when was the last time you or an acquaintance actively cleaned a handbag?” That doesn’t sound like the author is being stereotypical to me.

      Using one gender or the other in an article is a standard practice and is usually dictated by the gender of the author — why get offended at that?

      • Using one gender in an article isn’t standard practice anywhere – and why should it be? The AP Stylebook advises that gender-neutral recasts are always available.

        Why would gender be dictated by the gender of the author? Articles aren’t written for the author, they’re written for the reader.

        It would have been so easy to write a neutral opening. “When you think of all the things that go into handbags – keys, purses, tech equipment, food – it’s not surprising that sometimes bad things come out. A new study from …”

    • Hi Caroline, I always strive to be as inclusive as possible in my writing. On this one occasion, the intro simply flowed better to use “wife” (it also assumes the reader is married — another harmless generalisation). Nevertheless, you have my apologies if it caused offense.

      • Thank you, Chris. I appreciate you taking the time to respond. Lifehacker’s a community leader, and people take cues from voices like Lifehacker to see how to behave. So thank you for striving for inclusiveness.

  • Just a thought the belt of the cleanest man in the world would be putrid as its pulled up an fastened before you wash your hands! Then you wash your hands and then check that everything is put a way and fastened think about it .

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